Whether you love it or hate it the Motor Voter program is the new reality in Oregon politics. So in an effort to better understand the political effects of the program let’s dig into some of the statistics.
For those of you unfamiliar with the program, Motor Voter is the program that automatically registers Oregonians to vote when they apply for or renew a driver’s permit, license, or ID card in the state. The idea is that because those interactions provide the State with all the information that would be necessary to register a voter, they should automatically do so in order to enfranchise more voter and keep voter registration as up to date as possible.
After the State registers an individual to vote in this way, the person is sent a postcard. This card gives the individual the opportunity to opt out and become unregistered to vote or register with the political party of their choice. Should the individual do nothing they will be automatically registered as a Non-Affiliated Voter.
Since the program went into effect at the beginning of January 2016 Oregon has added 291,938 new voters. 36,204 of whom selected a political party and 255,734 were registered as Non-Affiliates.
In a state with 2,577,778 total voters, the Motor Voter population makes up just over 11% of the total voters.
The program has produced 16,141 new Democratic Party voters, or about 45% of the folks who chose to join a political party. Comparatively 12,044 people joined the Republican Party or 33% of those who chose a political party. There are just over 10% more Democratic voters in Oregon than Republican and these numbers seem in line with that. Make no mistake though the vast majority of those signed up to vote, around 88%, were registered as Non-Affiliated Voters.
Politically speaking there is no way to deny that Democrats benefit from the implementation of the Motor Voter program. Not only has the program produced more Democratic voters than Republican (It’s a blue state, so we can’t be surprised), but the Democratic infrastructure in Oregon for contacting and mobilizing voters statewide is superior to the Republican efforts. This means the Democrats have more resources and ability to win over the new 11% of voters.
The three counties where the most voters were signed up were Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas. While Multnomah is a Democratic stronghold, Washington and Clackamas Counties have been real battleground at different points over the last decade.
This program may be a boon to the Democratic establishment here in Oregon, but it doesn’t have to be. It is tough to get information on the vast majority of the Motor Voter population who were signed up as Non-Affiliates, but if Oregon Republicans could find a way to message to these voters and mobilize them to turn out, it could mitigate the gains received by Democrats.
We can choose to be victims of circumstance and blame our electoral woes on things like Motor Voter and vote by mail, or we can find a way to win the hearts and minds of more of the Oregon people, including those in the Motor Voter population.